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Italy captain Sergio Parisse - 'We expected to play against Madigan'

The formidable number eight says starting in the Six Nations comes with ‘big responsibility, big pressure.’

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico

ITALY CAPTAIN SERGIO Parisse has admitted the Azzurri were surprised by Joe Schmidt’s selection of Ian Keatley in Ireland’s number 10 shirt for tomorrow’s Six Nations meeting in Rome.

Parisse also stated that there will be “big pressure” on the Munster man at Stadio Olimpico as Schmidt’s side get their title defence underway.

Sergio Parisse Parisse led Italy on their captain's run this morning in Rome. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was some surprise on Irish soil after yesterday’s team announcement, and the Italians had also been expecting to hear Ian Madigan’s name read out.

“We didn’t expect probably to play against Keatley at number 10, we thought in our minds that it would be Madigan,” said Parisse this afternoon following Italy’s captain’s run at Stadio Olimpico.

“In any case, they are two different kinds of player. Madigan is the kind of player that attacks the line more, a good step and Keatley has another kind of game. From the tactical point of view, he’s probably more similar to [Johnny] Sexton.

From our point of view, we don’t really focus our strategy on Madigan or Keatley, we just study Ireland as every team does in the Six Nations and try to put them under pressure.”

Keatley is set for his Six Nations debut at the age of 27, after taking a somewhat roundabout route to this point. Having left his native Leinster in 2008, the out-half impressed over three years with Connacht before switching to Munster.

His time at the southern province has seen Keatley succeed Ronan O’Gara as first-choice out-half, seeing off the challenge of JJ Hanrahan in the last two seasons.

Keatley has played in high-pressure Champions Cup semi-finals and already has three Ireland caps, but Parisse says tomorrow’s Six Nations meeting will be another major step up for the Irishman.

Ian Keatley Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I suppose for him it’s a great opportunity,” said the Stade Français number eight. “He will have great pressure on his shoulders before the match tomorrow, but he plays for Munster and has the attitude to play at good levels.

“We don’t think too much, we must keep pressure on him, but not just only on him. Obviously with any team you want to put the number 10 under pressure.

“When you have an opportunity to play for your country in a match in the Six Nations, there is a big responsibility, big pressure. So it’s for him to manage this pressure.

For my point of view, the Italian point of view, we want to put pressure on him and all his team, but we don’t focus just on him and focus just on his match.”

The scrutiny on Keatley will be intense from the opening minute, but the Italians have a Six Nations debutant of their own at out-half tomorrow to worry about.

Kiwi native Kelly Haimona impressed in his first three starts in the November Tests and now head coach Jacques Brunel is handing the former Bay of Plenty halfback a chance on an even bigger stage.

While Parisse and the Italian pack will look to heap the pressure on Keatley, they will be simultaneously be focused on relieving 28-year-old Haimona of any burden.

Ian Keatley Keatley will line up opposite a fellow Six Nations debutant. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Obviously, the Six Nations is another competition with more pressure than the Tests in November,” said Parisse. “Kelly has the chance to play again and I think he wants to improve and play well for the team.

“For my point of view, all of the team has my confidence and support. Every single match for a number 10, you must have a platform for him. We must play well in the scrum and give him the possiblity to have a lot of opportunities to attack, and from the lineout.

“It’s going to be important to keep him from having too much pressure.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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